All posts by Willow

Spirituality, Social Justice and Disability Symposium

Today’s class was particularly exciting both because the symposium provided a delicious (and free) lunch, and that I was able to listen to three very thought provoking presentations on topics I haven’t thought too much about previously. The first presenter’s story was inspiring, as I myself have a tendency to dream too big for reality. But in this case, this woman was able to pull off a local festival dedicated to improving awareness about local health. Through the power of conversation and dedication, she was able to mobilize our community into making strive towards change, and spread the importance of taking care of your emotional health. I was inspired by the woman’s ability to overcome her fear for the sake of accomplishing something that is truly important.

Dr. Spickard presented on the concept of sustaining our lives in the difficult world that we live in, with a particular emphasis on spiritual narratives in Catholic workers. It is always difficult to see images of Skid Row, and to hear statistics about the astronomical issues surrounding homelessness. However, it was uplifting to learn about the crafty ways that some religious folk, who are relentlessly dedicated to world peace, worked to improve the lives of the homeless. Hearing stories of volunteers going to court to prevent shopping carts from being taken away, working the system to keep Port-a-Pottys available, and making and blessing soup with a community to hand out for free was comforting. Sociologically speaking, I learned about the steadfast identity of most Catholics from their personal perspectives. It seemed to be a theme that whether or not these individuals liked it or not, they were tremendously firm in their identity as a Roman Catholic, and said that it made them who they are as a person.

Political Secularism

Throughout the past several weeks of class, my understanding of secularism has broadened.  I have realized that a secular America does not simply refer to a country that is losing religious prevelance. Rather, there are many different theories on secularism– most which are quite complex. We have also read and discussed in class the tie between politics and religion, and how the pews have become increasingly conservative in both their political affiliation and their interpretation of scripture.

For Wednesday, I read Caitlin Killian’s discussion on legislation in France that bans religious symbols in certain public spaces. Killian explained the different arguments for and against these religious restrictions, and studied how different demographics feel about said restrictions. Although the author did not conclude if the laicite was right or wrong, she did explain how the reasons for the government’s forced secularization has political foundations. As Islamophobia is unfortunately on the rise, some people support the banning of religious symbols as a way to prevent the visibility of Islam. Some support the ban because they haven’t really seen religious symbols much in their daily life, so they wouldn’t notice much of a difference. Killian also explains that some people believe that the laicite will take pressure off of Muslim girls who are forced to veil, or will be threatened if they don’t. Of course, some of these claims could be justification for underlying religious discrimination.

The political views associated with secularism legislation in France vary on demographic, most specifically with generation. After reading Killian’s report, I now understand the close tie between secularism and politics, and how its presence varies form country to country.

Ancient Israeli Artifacts Give Insight to Life of Jesus

Washington Post– How Did Jesus’ Early Followers Live?

The construction of a highway into Jerusalem is in the works. With this construction, Israeli archaeologists have stumbled upon several important, ancient artifacts from the Byzantine era. Primarily, these artifacts included 9 coins with faces of Byzantine emperors on them. They are thought to have been left in the wall of a building for safe keeping around 614, near the end of Persian invasion of the Holy Land. Studiers of the artifacts think that the person who left the coins most likely intended to come back for their belongings but never had the chance. The building was a structure in an “unearthed village” that provided refuge for Christian pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

The article illuminates how these coins serve to help us understand how Jesus and his prophets lived back then. Although it doesn’t prove his particular existence, it does provide evidence of how and where he and his followers may have had lived by giving archeologists a look into the ancient Christian world. This also validates this particular place to be of Christian, Jewish and Muslim significance.

This historical and religious development is related to what we are learning in class because it proves both the historical importance of ancient religions, and its decline in the modern day. The fact that this village of Christian refuge had been completely forgotten, and only was rediscovered because of highway development speaks to the secularization theory. Despite the religious significance, the highway will open in a few months as planned. The article even points out that indeed, “Christian presence across the Middle East is diminishing and believers often face persecution”.

Conflicting Secularism

After the presentations on Wednesday, our class discussions, and the readings for tomorrow, I realized something important about our studies: sociological theories are nearly never identical. In Wednesday’s presentations, groups of classmates explained the main ideas behind their individual readings, with the ultimate goal of reiterating the main message to the rest of the class. What became apparent by the last presentation is that each reading, in some way or another, was about secularism. However, the theories regarding secularism varied dramatically from group to group. The analysis of the numbers of religiosity over time was unique for each sociologists, and thus drew very different conclusions. For one article, the author’s opinion on how pluralism affected religiosity made a complete 180 from a book he wrote on pluralism several years ago. This made me realize that although many sociologists are doing good, clean, research,  nearly no one is going to be in complete agreement, depending on what you’re looking at.

Doctor Spickard made this point at the end of class, and it rang particularly true as I continued with my readings for tomorrow. In Gendering Secularization Theory, Linda Woodhead explains how often times, shifts in gender roles are completely disregarded when studying secularization, and thus half of the world’s population is being ignored, resulting in accurate data. Woodhead explained how the shift of women in society since the 1960’s directly changes how religious shifts. She further explained how most sociologists don’t take this simple factor into account, which could potentially change the outcome of all of their research. This demonstrates how many researches are not on the same page in regards to what is being looked for, and how evidence is being analyzed.

Southern Baptist’s Job on the Line Due to Politics

Russell Moore’s position as the president of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Church is in contention. The Washington Post article outlines how Moore has continuously critiqued President Trump throughout the campaign period and his first few months of presidency. The Southern Baptist Church is traditionally conservative, and thus typically support Trump’s platform– more than 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. The article notes that this could be tied to a hope for nominating a Supreme Court Judge that would oppose abortion rights. Moore’s disagreement with Trump has consequently caused contention between the congregation members and leadership. Furthermore, “46,000 churches have threatened to cut off financial support for the SBC’s umbrella fund,” according to the president of the executive committee, Frank Page. This deprivation of funds could cause serious strife for the Southern Baptists. Page continued to insinuate that asking for Moore’s resignation is not out of the question, although he hopes that he can work with those who oppose him to reconcile the disagreement. Moore has been complimented for working towards racial justice, and for encouraging older generations to appeal to more modern politics (this is an inference from the article, but I am assuming this means a push from conservatism towards more liberal politics).  The article notes that having Moore removed from the church would be a loss in terms of implementing racial equality within congregations.

This news story is yet another example of the close tie between politics and religion. I find this story to be particularly interesting, however, because it outlines the contention that takes place when their is political disagreement within a church, when I would assume that religious beliefs could be separate from political party affiliation. This has seemingly proved to be false, which is demonstrated with the potential loss of Moore’s job.

Modern Religious Narratives

The narratives discussed in Religion in the Modern World as well as in Narrative vs. Theory rang especially true to my experience with American religion and its landscape across our nation. The prominence of secularization got me thinking about how  different our world would be if religion had more cultural authority, and the morality behind that thought. This has made me wonder if religion has not been secularized, if the behaviors and actions of our communities would be less diverse. If religious organizations had more power, and communities subscribed to the same religion, and individuals were held accountable for acting in congruence with their faith, it seems that we would end up without much diversity in our society. In terms of our government, McGuire’s text discusses how the courts are independent of religion, and in the past, state and nation governments could make charges with a religious foundation. In this regard, secularization of religion has allowed for more religious diversity and freedom in our nation. That being said, although the United States does practice separation of church and state, our government still seems to have Christian morals at its foundation, and even mentions God in its pledge. I am wondering what the relationship between this civil religion and secularization is.

The Impact of Religion on Social Change Seen in Congregation Visits

I found a strong correlation between the matters discussed in chapter 7 of McGuire and Monday’s presentations on congregation visits. Most people in class seemed to have positive experiences at their congregation, and pointed out several key themes. Congregations are indeed getting smaller and older, as our texts have pointed out. As a consequence, congregation leaders are generally excited when new-comers visit, and are eager to attempt to retain their attendance. Most people also pointed out a strong consistency in the demographic of their congregation, meaning that the ethnicity, education status, and economic class was seemingly similar between most members of the congregation.

McGuire’s chapter on the impact of religion on social change is reflective of many of these key themes pointed out in Monday’s presentations. McGuire notes that religion is inherently conservative, and thus often supports the status quo. At the same time, powerful leadership in a congregation can also act as a revolutionary force to promote change within a society. It seemed that some congregations strongly strived to promote social change, where as others fought to preserve tradition. More specifically, the United Church of Christ promoted liberal values and a step in a new political direction. People were encouraged to share their worries and their joys to in order to make the world a better place. On the other hand, some congregations were described as more formal, with a strong emphasis on ritual and tradition, rather than progressive discussion. Whether aiming to enforce the status quo or strive for revolutionary change, it seemed that most congregations happily opened their service to our class.

Pope Francis Encourages Activism and Condemns Exclusion

In class, we discussed the trend of an increasingly politically conservative attendance in America’s pews. As religious involvement has softened, those who have have remained headstrong in the practice of their official religion are often more conservative, and have a tendency to use the word of God as a justification for their political beliefs on controversial issues such as abortion.

Pope Francis seems to be an exception to this trend. Although the same is not necessarily the case for all Catholic congregations, Francis has consistently spoken against hateful, exclusive rhetoric, and has taken up a more liberal agenda. He has articulated concerns over President’s Trump behavior and platform, and has instead encouraged the world to be loving and accepting of all. Francis has recently released a new letter, which was read at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, California, encouraging people to be activists against populism. He said that the resolution of current and pressing issues in our world is dependent upon “people’s involvement and participation”. He noted that xenophobia is a danger to the success of our society, insinuating that we must hold our institutions accountable for loving behavior and practices.

Although Francis did not directly mention President Trump, his words are clearly motivated by Trump’s agenda. Francis said that we should not condone leaders that rely on “fear, insecurity, quarrels, and even people’s justified indignation, in order to shift the responsibility for all these ills on to a ‘non-neighbor.'” On the day of the inauguration, Francis spoke of Hitler’s strategies of manipulating a crowd, and again in this letter, he is seemingly warning our population to stay smart, active, and true to our values.

Francis has also recently alluded to the events in Standing Rock in regards to the Dakota Access Pipeline, defending a “right to prior and informed consent” as to what happens to one’s land. Francis also has also protested against “social walls” and “false prophets”. By doing this, he has reminded us that Christianity promotes values of peace, love and inclusion to all. Although he is not taking a direct political stand with a named platform, he has vocalized his values and his interpretation of God’s word in order to encourage good will in his following.

Every Day Spirituality

After the presentation on Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes, I’ve been reflecting upon how daily activities are infused with spirituality. The group lead the class through a beautiful guided meditation, leaving students feeling focused, refreshed and aware for the remainder of the presentation. I was reminded how strong the connection of one’s breath and one’s body can be, and how a short period of meditation can improve your mood and focus for hours after the fact. The presentation centered around the three subsets of spirituality, and how people implement them into their lives. I found their discussion of spirituality in the physical body particularly interesting, as I hadn’t before thought of medical appointments or exercise to be spiritual, but the more I reflected the more I concurred. Personal health and wellness is particularly important to one’s happiness, and it only makes sense that meditation and spirituality should be connected to that.

The presentation also brought up the idea of spiritual meditation while doing remedial tasks such as driving home, walking a dog or eating dinner. The things we do everyday can become some of the best time to connect your breath to your body, slow your thoughts, and think about spiritual life. Since this presentation, I have began to implement these breathing practices into my daily activities, utilizing my time spent with familiar things to also work on my spiritual well being. I have found that this multi-tasking has helped me to feel more spiritual and connected, more of the time.

Valentine’s Day: A Religious Issue in Pakistan

Pakistan has recently taken a legal stand against Valentine’s Day, prohibiting its celebration as a means of protecting Islamic values. The idea is that Valentine’s Day is a symbol of “Western vulgarity and promiscuity that Islamist clerics often rail against”. Thus, banning Valentine’s Day is the Pakistani government preventing promiscuous behavior that deters the nation from Middle Eastern customs.

Pakistan is becoming “both more Western and more Islamic at the same time”. As religions and cultures continue to globalize, Western behavior, wardrobe, and customs have become more wildly practiced in Pakistan. In conjunction with political heat, traditional Islamic practices have become more highly prioritized, by both the Muslim democracy and civilians.

This ban has created a cultural divide in Pakistan today. Although some agree with the concept of the Valentine’s Day ban, they argue that it is acting as a big blow to business. One man  argued that life is short, and that he shouldn’t be prevented from giving his wife a gift that would make her smile. Another man said, “With all the problems Pakistan has, why shouldn’t we have one day for happiness?” Simultaneously, other civilians are celebrating the loss of a symbol of Western infiltration, and the ability to get back to their roots.

This article reminded me of Monday’s presentation on the Euro-Catholic and Latino-Catholic community sharing a warship place. Sometimes, people practice the same religion, and even have similar values, but struggle to see eye-to-eye because of cultural differences. Although most people in Pakistan have similar religious values, how people choose to practice their religion within their personal culture can be unique.